Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

MTguyMTguy Registered Users Posts: 10
Hello everyone. I am considering going back to school to work on a 2 year Associates Degree in "Renewable Generation". The school I am looking at is Bismarck State College (www.bismarckstate.edu). The school in general is well known in our area for its energy programs. I already have Bachelor and Master's degrees in Business, and hope someday to work in the renewable energy field. Initially I would like to work with a local utility company that has wind farms, but eventually would like to start my own renewable energy business. Does anyone here think that the experience and technical knowledge one would obtain from such a program is worth the effort? I appreciate any and all input.

Comments

  • WindsunWindsun Solar Expert Posts: 1,164 ✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    As a general rule, I would say no, but it depends on what the degree consists of. "Alternative" covers such a wide range, you may end up having a bare bones knowledge of a bunch of diverse fields.

    In my 20+ years in solar, the most important non-business areas have been a good understanding of electrical, basic electronics, basic physics (especially as it applies to wind and water). As far as wind farms go, you might be surprised at how mundane it can be once you get past the actual construction and installation (most of the maintainence consists of painting the towers :D )
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,246 admin
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    I worry that the government is going to run out of other peoples money and have to cut back on various green energy subsidy programs in the next few years (should be next month--but may last 2-4 years).

    A technical degree (i.e., electric/electronics engineering and/or an electrician type AS degree) will be useful--And if not too expensive, can be a good "investment". Please do not take out $20-$40k per year in student loans.

    In fact, do not take out any student loans (and work to pay off any outstanding student loans you may have). They are really nothing more than indentured servitude--or even a potential for slavery/path to debtors prison at this point because they are not dischargeable in bankruptcy (sorry for the strong words--I believe the current mixture of government student loans and college expenses is a human rights violation).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    By the time you complete the course it will all be different. This is definitely one field where "learn as you go" is the norm, and you'd better learn fast and keep on learning.

    Old folks like me are being left in the dust already. :cry:
  • rollandelliottrollandelliott Solar Expert Posts: 797 ✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    if you want to work for some huge electrical company, any degree will help you get your foot in the door.
    but that's not what you want. You want to have your own business?

    I'm assuming installing solar products? The local companies around here sell radiant barriers, hot water heat pumps, solar hot water systems and of course PV. Not sure how profitable it is since you have to waste so much time giving out quotes to people that are just window shopping and are typically ignorant, thinking 8 solar panels can power their whole home with 2 friges, 4 tv's and a freezer and massive AC usage (OK, maybe I'm exagerating, but not by much)

    I'll agree with others, better to just learn by doing than pay a school to teach you, what probably wont' be practical street creds anyways.

    If you can figgure out the lease game these other solar leasing companies are playing that seems very profitable, but then again some of those companies are being investigated by the feds for milking the system too much.
  • boBboB Solar Expert Posts: 962 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    If you want to eventually start your omvwn RE company, I would definitely go to work for an existing company and learn the ropes there and.may've also go to school to learn about it too if you have thefunds AND the time of course. Also, don't forget about outfits like SEI, Solar Energy International www.solarenergy.org who teach many aspects of RE including wind and hydro.
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 4,913 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    I spent my first life as a photojournalist, I always explained it was a dead end job that had fewer opportunities than college graduates each year. That you could expect to compete with over a hundred people that were likely better qualified for what few positions that became available. This was early 1980's and papers were closing left and right.

    If that didn't turn them off they had a chance...

    If it's your dream, spend some time in the field, 'hang out' and help out with installers, solar shops, habitat (I hear they are doing some energy neutral homes now and I've found it enjoyable) Audit some classes and check out those your interested in and see if your intrest blooms or dies. You may even be able to do some small scale solar retailing if your allowed cottage industry where you live, become a middle man for a line of solar products, water heaters, panels, or if your handy make some solar thermal heaters, water and air and offer them on craigs list.

    If by chance you do some energy fairs, or sustainable living expo's do something for the kids, My mom helped organize one in North Florida and I've been to one in the Missouri, and there never seams to be much for kids, if someone setup some whirligigs and solar fountains, maybe brought in some solar toys, the parents are sure to follow...
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Prosine 1800 and Exeltech 1100, 660 ah 24v ForkLift battery. Off grid for @16 of last 17 years. Assorted other systems, and to many panels in the closet to not do more...lol
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,141 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    As with any field of endeavour: Follow Your passion... It's what YOU believe.

    Everything else is opinion
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • rollandelliottrollandelliott Solar Expert Posts: 797 ✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    I know someone who was passionate about learning about solar, putting up their own, system, helping their relatives/friends with there's but after a few months realized what he liked the most about the job was learning about how to do it. The actual daily grind of installing panels, doing proposals he found boring.

    Unfortunately once you learn the ropes, it's not a very creative job IMHO.
  • boBboB Solar Expert Posts: 962 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    PV and RE installation is very much like being an electrician. If you do not mind being an electrician as well as learning about renewable/alternative energy, then this might be for you.

    If doing things like electricians do, running wires, mounting PV racking, etc. does not appeal to you, then I would say this field may not be for you.

    boB
  • MTguyMTguy Registered Users Posts: 10
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    Thanks everyone for all of the input. To give everyone a bit more info on my situation, I will be eligible for 12 months of GI Bill due to my current deployment to Afghanistan. The GI Bill would pay for almost all of my tuition and books. If I don't get any type of scholarship (admittedly hard due to my existing degrees), I might have to pay $1000 or $2000 out of pocket. I can handle the out of pocket expenses easily enough. The part that I like the most is the systems design phase. I would include full off grid water, septic, and architectural designs in my interests as well. I am pretty handy with projects, but will need some more hands on experience as well. I currently have a job that pays well enough with good benefits, but I don't find it satisfying anymore. I would be able to attend school at night and online while keeping my current job. I have this sickness where I actually like school....
  • rollandelliottrollandelliott Solar Expert Posts: 797 ✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?

    Me too I like school. I've probably spent just as much time reading about solar than I have installing it.

    It's the crawling around on hot roofs, and drilling holes in attics that I don't care for.

    You'd probably be better off getting an electrical residential contractors license so you don't have to rely on hiring a licensed electrician.

    Anyone can pay $2,000 for classes, study and a $150 for a NABCEP test. At least anyone who is good at studying and taking tests.
    http://www.solarenergy.org/nabcep-certification

    With NABCEP certification I'm guessing that is all most companies would need to hire you as a system designer for solar systems. Though I'm not sure that there are too many of those jobs around. I know a company that used college electrical engineering students working as interns to do inside system design. The system they sold me did not work because the intern used low voltage panels instead of high voltage ones. I think I can count on one hand the national solar supply companies that actually design systems for people. Most just sell stuff and leave any technical desing to the purchaser.
  • paulskirockspaulskirocks Solar Expert Posts: 84 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Are alternative energy technical degrees worth it?
    Me too I like school. I've probably spent just as much time reading about solar than I have installing it.

    It's the crawling around on hot roofs, and drilling holes in attics that I don't care for.

    You'd probably be better off getting an electrical residential contractors license so you don't have to rely on hiring a licensed electrician.

    Well, first you become an apprentice, where you get to perfect the art of dirt and insulation swimming... Then, after a couple years or so, you become a journeyman, where you continue to help new apprentices perfect the art... After 4 more years (at least in CA), you then qualify for your electrical contractors license... Then you realize how hard it is to get good help, so you continue to find yourself perfecting you attic and crawl space shuffle... Still, for me, it's been a good trade, although, at 48, I getting a bit tired of the crawling part!

    The moral of my story is: Go out and get into the work force, where you learn to make a living... Taking relevant classes as well can be great, but in the end of your schooling, you still have to get to work...
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